If you live in or own a home in North Riverside and you’re looking to buy a new vehicle sticker or obtain a permit to do property improvements or get a license to do business, you’d best not owe the village any money.
On June 19, the village board voted unanimously to amend its code to add language saying, “no license permit or application shall be issued or accepted from any person or entity that is indebted to the village of North Riverside.”
So, if you are someone who hasn’t paid for a vehicle sticker on principle because you always park your car in the garage – and possibly if you’ve been holding out on paying red-light camera tickets — be forewarned.
According to Ryan Lawler, the village’s finance director, in the past residents could obtain building permits or other licenses even if they owed the village money. In recent years, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, unpaid water bills were a particular pressure.
Lawler said that at the height of the pandemic, the village had as much as $200,000 in unpaid water charges, although that has dipped to about $50,000. More recently, village officials have noticed a downturn in vehicle sticker revenues after changes made to the fee structure last year.
“It’s tough because you don’t want to be the big, bad village, but there are costs to every program that we manage, and part of that is revenue collection,” Lawler said. It’s a very fine line, but the direction we’ve been given from the board is to at least put a program in place where it makes it more difficult to sort of rob Peter to pay Paul, that you can go and get a permit to put in a new deck at your house but you don’t have to be current on your water bill.”
North Riverside officials don’t have a firm number yet on exactly how much is owed to the village from the various permit and licensing programs, how much in red-light camera or local ordinance violation revenue is outstanding.
Staff is in the process of collecting that data, and it doesn’t appear people are going to be turned away for every unpaid debt immediately. However, by the end of 2023, said Lawler, the village hopes to have a program fully in place.
But some enforcement activity has increased already with respect to vehicle stickers and water bill collection. Not only has the balance of outstanding water charges gone down, but the village is beginning to see more vehicle sticker purchases.
“We’ve been encouraged there, but we can still tell there’s a lot of people that have opted not to purchase a sticker,” Lawler said. “But we have a general sense of how many cars are in town and how many vehicle stickers we have sold, and there’s a gap there.”
Lawler said the village doesn’t have a firm number yet on just how much is sitting out there to be collected, and Lawler acknowledged requiring residents to pay debts in order to get permits or other licenses could result in unpermitted property improvements taking place.
“We’re trying to be more creative in how we approach the revenue side, and unfortunately it’s going to impact the residents and the business owners as well; we’re cognizant of that,” Lawler said. “But at the end of the day it’s about fairness and equity … if you’ve incurred a debt on the village. How is that fair on one side to say, ‘Hey, you don’t have to pay,’ but their neighbor next door has to pay? It is about fairness.”